Celebrating over three decades on the Decca Classics label, mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli releases a brand new album commemorating the life and career of the most famous opera singer of the eighteenth century: the castrato Farinelli. Set for release on 29th November, the record includes arias by Farinelli’s older brother Riccardo Broschi, and his teacher and mentor Nicola Porpora. It also features a new recording of ‘Alto Giove’ from Porpora’s Polifemo, which celebrates Farinelli’s unique capacity to sing long musical phrases and extraordinary high notes. Cecilia performs with the period ensemble Il Giardino Armonicoand its conductor Giovanni Antonini, with whom she first collaborated on her Grammy award-winning Vivaldialbum, and again on Sacrificium, her first castrati album from 2009 which also won the Grammy for Best Classical Vocal Performance.
Many arias included on this new release were written specifically for Farinelli, with the composers often developing ground-breaking works with the castrato in mind. In 1725, Hasse’s Marc’Antonio e Cleopatrapremiered outside Naples, with the role of Cleopatra written for Farinelli (nicknamed “il ragazzo” – the boy – for his youthful beauty). A notable example of audiences’ love of anti-realism and the fetishisation of “hermaphroditic” voices during this period, an older, female singer, Vittoria Tesi performed the role of Marc’Antonio, something the elite and cultured audiences would have relished. This celebration of gender fluidity and its associated power dynamics has been brought to the fore for 21stcentury audiences by Bartoli for this new release.
Italian Farinelli, born Carlo Maria Michelangelo Nicola Broschi in 1705, is heralded as one of the greatest singers in the history of opera and a bona fide ‘rock star’ in enlightened Baroque society. Unlike many castrati, Farinelli was descended from nobility, and was castrated around the age of 12. Already a talented singer, having studied with the most famous singing teacher in Naples, Nicola Porpora, Farinelli’s fame grew exponentially during his adolescence and he became known across Italy as ‘Singer to Kings’. Future successes included performances in Europe’s gilded royal courts, and a lucrative period spent in London, originating new roles created by the eminent G. F. Handel. Farinelli’s career concluded with two decades engaged at the Spanish court, invited by Queen Elisabeth who believed his beautiful voice could cure her husband’s melancholia.
Cecilia Bartoli wanted to shine a light on the music behind one of the most famous names in opera and undress a few of the ideas surrounding sex and gender in historical performance. She released the bestselling album Sacrificium, her first foray into the world of castrati, featuring world premiere recordings by Antonio Caldara, Leonardo Vinci and Francesco Araia, among others. Throughout the following decade, Bartoli was the flagbearer for this music, and it inspired her decision to make Farinelli the focus of this year’s Salzburg Whitsun Festival, which she programmed as its Artistic Director.
Her desire to present the mononymous artist in a contemporary setting is echoed in the album artwork, with Cecilia continuing to push boundaries by playing around with the presentation and perception of gender: “It is no coincidence that I can realise the idea [of exploring the art of great castrati] now, when discussions about the abuse of the bodily integrity of artists have become so topical… the phenomenon should be highlighted from different points of view, without neglecting the terrible historical context.”
Having sold over 12 million records worldwide, Cecilia Bartoli has enjoyed a highly-decorated career, gracing the stages of the world’s concert halls and opera stages for over three decades. On 16 May 1987, a nineteen-year-old Cecilia gave her debut performance of Rossini’s Barbiere di Sivigliain the opera house of her home city of Rome, and made her stage debut a decade earlier singing the role of the Shepherd Boy at a performance ofToscain Rome. Since then, Cecilia’s inclination for discovery has led her to perform music by some of history’s lesser known composers. In addition to her many other awards, she has won five Grammys, more than a dozen Echo Klassik Awards in Germany, two Classical Brit Awards, the Victoire de la Musique in France, the Prix Caecilia in Belgium, and the Edison Award in the Netherlands.
Cecilia undertakes a Europe-wide tour from 23rdNovember, performing the music from her new release with her Baroque ensemble Les Musicians du Prince-Monaco.